Wednesday, October 18, 2017

They did what with a Saturn V?

This week's episode of the "Big Bang Theory" featured a model rocketry thread in which Wolowitz resurrects some of his old rockets in anticipation of sharing his past joy in rocketry with his soon-to-be-born son. He and Sheldon build an Estes Saturn V, which they intend on launching out in the boondocks. As usual, things go wrong - after a bit of an argument over whether countdowns should be "L minus..." or "T minus...", the launch button is pressed and the Saturn V explodes, sending pieces everywhere. Very painful for a rocketeer to watch... especially when you consider how much effort goes into building one of those kits.

However, the show did bring another Saturn V launch to mind - one that happened in front of tens of thousands of spectators and that was also nationally televised. Unlike the "Big Bang" launch, this one was eminently successful, and a tribute to the talents and skills of the folks at Estes and the Texas rocketeer who built the Saturn.

And it happened indoors!

So dear friends, sit back, click the image below, and read the story as written by the man himself, Vern Estes.  However, I'll provide a little beginning:

Once upon a time, in late 1969...

This is one of my favorite rocket stories - I find it amazing that
  1. They were able to estimate the altitude so precisely using hand calculations (no personal computers or electronic calculators back then)
  2. They took the time to manufacture special D motors for the launch, and that they were consistent to within 3% (TARC teams would love this!)
  3. Things went off without a hitch, including the pre-show Alpha launches. Murphy must have still been on holiday.
We probably can't do anything like this in the current environment of regulations - which I find kind of sad. I sometimes miss the enthusiasm of the 60's and 70's; we believed we could do anything (and some did)!

And, btw, Wolowitz, it is "T minus..." - "L minus" is used to denote the days before launch, not in the immediate countdown.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

This old dog learns a new trick...

Things have been busy this weekend - I have the Centuri Groove Tube painted and ready for decals, my scratch-built Probe-18 is repaired and has a new payload section, the Gyroc clone and eBay rescue Sky Hook are in primer, and I have gathered the parts for the last build on my list, the Centuri Mach 10. I also took a look ahead to the next rocket after that one, a clone of the Estes Marauder cold power convertible. I realized it would need decals, so I spent a few hours today putting together a set for this model, along with the Gyroc. In so doing, I learned a new thing.

Scan of the Marauder decal downloaded from Ye Olde Rocket Plans (Click to enlarge).
One of the great things going for today's rocketeers is that the Internet makes it easy to locate plans, patterns, and decals for old models. However, some of the decal scans are of sets in poor condition - water/liquid stains, scratches, and dirt/gunk being common defects. As a result, a fair amount of time must be spent "cleaning them up" in a graphics program. I use Pixelmator on the Mac - it's simple, with a great easy-to-use tool set; Photoshop and its free equivalent Gimp are way too complicated for my old brain. But today, a question came to me as I was cleaning up the Marauder decal - could I generate the equivalent from scratch in less time?

The roll pattern and stripe was no problem; I could also swipe the Estes logo from another decal in a better condition. However, the common bugaboo is with the letters and numbers - trying to figure out which fonts match those in the original can be quite an undertaking. I spent about an hour scrounging through online collections like dafonts and 1001fonts looking for a match to the UNITED STATES with no luck. Somewhat frustrated, I figured there had to be a better way and googled font matching. This pointed me to a nifty website - Font Squirrel - which had a nifty font matching utility. All you have to do is upload a graphic containing your text, and the site will search through commercial and free fonts seeking a match. Much better than manually searching thousands of fonts font by font! I uploaded the UNITED STATES part of the decal image and Font Squirrel directed me to the free Grammara font. Sure enough, it was a close match. The site did even better with the Marauder name -  the free News of the World Wide Italic produces letters virtually indistinguishable from those in the decal. Finally, I tried the number 5 (had to feed it both 5's as the site choked on just a single letter), and it pointed me to the Days Sans Black font, which is similar - but visibly different from - the decal 5. I could have gotten a nearly exact match by buying one of the commercial fonts for $32, but that price is way too steep for something I will probably use once or twice. Clones are supposed to be cheap, you know.
My reproduction (Click to enlarge).
Anyway, now that I know what to do, I can probably replicate a close facsimile of a decal set fairly quickly. Whether this is faster than cleaning up the decal depends on the condition of the original, but at least I have the option should I feel it is needed. The old dog is now ready to call it an evening, content that he has learned a new skill this weekend.

But first I must watch the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery...

Monday, October 9, 2017

Working through the list...

A few days ago, I finished a clone of the Estes Falcon Commander, which was one of the three items on my 2017 build list. Next up is a clone of the venerable Estes Gyroc, which is also celebrating (along with the Alpha) the 50th anniversary of its release this year. The Gene Street-designed helicopter recovery Gyroc had an unusual start - it did not officially appear as a stand-alone item in the Estes catalogs until 1969; the first availability in 1967 was as a free kit for those placing orders over $5. All you had to do was write "Free Gyroc" on the last line of the order form (see below). It's kinda of interesting that the Gyroc showed up just after a plan called the "Flip Flap" was published in the December 1966 Model Rocket News, as that design incorporates the elastic thread activation of flaps like in the Gyroc. However, it was probably too late to have been a factor in the Gyroc design, and besides, the "Flip Flap" looks clunky by comparison.

1st appearance of the Gyroc in the 1967 Estes catalog (Click to enlarge - still gonna be fuzzy).
Gyroc in the 1969 Estes catalog (Click to enlarge).
Several of the old Estes kits did not come with decals; the Gyroc was one of these, sporting a barbershop pole paint scheme in its 1967 and 1969 catalog spots. The 1970 catalog artwork has it adorned with an unknown streak decal, close (but not quite the same) to the one on the old partial Gyroc in the pic below. The 1971 catalog shows the kit in its "canonical" yellow decor, with decals from the various sources (Beta, D-13 sheet, etc). The Gyroc never had a set of decals included with the kit, so some scrounging was required if you wanted to put them on the model.

Old broken Gyroc with unknown decal (Click to enlarge).
The Gyroc in the 1971 catalog (Click to enlarge).
I have never possessed a Gyroc - always seemed to be too much work (many balsa pieces to cut out precisely) for too little reward. However, Balsa Machining Service is producing a Gyroc kit that features laser-cut parts, thereby eliminating a lot of the fussing and cussing. You have to download a set of the instructions and provide your own decals, but it is a faithful reproduction of the original, down to the elastic thread. This is what I am currently building, and so far it has gone reasonably smoothly. You need to be careful when sealing the thin 1/6" balsa, as the parts can warp if you apply too much water-based sealer - I only had trouble with one wing, and that was fixed by letting it dry under some books. The parts are now finished, and I have started gluing things together - you can see the current state of the build in the pic below. The fins are being held in place by one of the wondrous Qualman Rocketry fin alignment guides, and the model is supported by two of the Estes tube cutting guides (these too are wonderful when working with Estes tubes).

Current state of my Gyroc build (Click to enlarge).
I'm hoping to finish this model in time for the club Halloween launch on the 28th - it's about time I flew a Gyroc!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Pics from Saturday's launch...

Duane's Estes Make-It-Take-It leaves the rod on an A8-3 (Click to enlarge).
Saturday's launch did not just involve the TARC Geezers; quite a few other folk joined us at Pegasus, many bringing rockets to fly. In addition to me, Duane, Marc, and Vince, there were Art, Blake, Matt, and Phillip, along with the Hope Rising and James Clemens TARC teams. We also had a few spectators, including Art's pastor and a young rocketeer who got to start the launch by pressing the button that sent my A8-powered Estes Alpha 3 skyward. Needless to say, there was a lot of activity, and I had a very hard time keeping up with rockets taking to the air. In addition to the Geezer TARC birds, more than 25 other rockets made voyages on Saturday; I say "more than" because the two TARC teams were still flying their BMS 3" School Rockets when Duane and I departed the field.

A couple of things of note:

Duane had the "Curse of Recovery" while I was afflicted with the "Altimeter Curse". My GDTV-1 rocket hit an altitude of 479 feet on an Aerotech E20, but the payload section got a nice bounce on landing. The bounce broke my altimeter bay, resulting in the Perfectflite Alt 15k/WD altimeter tumbling free inside the tube. It beeped out the altitude just fine, but chirped like a deranged bird when I tried to reset it for the next flight. I didn't see any obvious cause, but the net effect was that the GDTV-1 flew without an altimeter on its first rail-guided flight. I will have to conduct my experiment on a later date with a new, stronger altimeter bay - and a different altimeter. This one is toast.

My last flight of the day was made by my reliable Probe-18 on a B6-4, loaded with my favorite Micropeak altimeter in the payload section. The rocket grabbed some good air, but I was horrified to see it separate in two at recovery. The sustainer tumbled to earth, suffering minor damage, but the payload section - with my beautiful altimeter - drifted to the southwest and was lost to sight. It's probably somewhere in Mississippi...

My GDTV-1 is about to clear the rail riding an Aerotech
 E20-4 White Lightning motor (Click to enlarge).
The Probe-18 gets started on its ill-fated journey
(Click to enlarge).
October 3 and 4 are the 75th and 60th anniversaries of the 1st rocket to reach space (the V-2) and the flight of Sputnik 1, which opened the Space Age. In keeping with the spirit of these events, Art Woodling and Vince launched some Sputnik-like rockets, and there were a couple of V-2's leaving the pads. I was going to bring a small Sputnik, but Mr. Klutz (me) broke one of the dowels when I pulled it out of storage.

Art's "Pumpkinik" on a C6-3 (Click to enlarge).The "Flying Purple People Eater" gets going on an Estes
F15 (Click to enlarge).
Vince launches his C-powered V-2 (Click to enlarge).Blake's V-2 heads north towards London on an E9
(Click to enlarge).
So here are a few more pictures - I was busy with Geezer TARC during much of the time and didn't get to take as many as I would have liked, but they should give you a flavor of the rockets launched at Pegasus yesterday.

Marc's Aspire going up on a F44 (Click to enlarge)....and coming down under chute (Click to enlarge).
Art's 50+ year old Scout (his 1st rocket) recreates its 1st
flight on a 1/2A6-2 (Click to enlarge).
Phillip's camera-carrying Sprint XL rides a D12 motor
up into the sky (Click to enlarge).
A Zooch Saturn 1 on a B6-4 (Click to enlarge).Vince's "Spooknik" clears the pad under the power of
an Estes A10 (Click to enlarge).
A "Sputnik Too" under the thrust of an A8-3
(Click to enlarge).
Vince's Ares scale model riding a B6-4
(Click to enlarge).
An Estes Interceptor leaves behind a cloud of smoke
from its C6-5 (Click to enlarge).
A Space-X Falcon with Dragon capsule makes a
successful flight (Click to enlarge).
The Hope Rising TARC team go over their launch procedures (Click to enlarge).
A Gemini DC belonging to a Hope student leaves the
pad (Click to enlarge).
A Hope Rising BMS School Rocket rises on an
Estes D12 (Click to enlarge).

Saturday, September 30, 2017

We have a new TARC Geezer!

Vince's Geezer TARC entry sets on the pad awaiting launch (Click to enlarge).
Well, today was THE day - the annual Geezer TARC fly off. This year's contestants - myself, Duane, Marc, and Vince - gathered at Pegasus field at 10 AM for the showdown. As is the norm with Geezer TARC, there were sighs of relief and expressions of dismay, with things never going as expected. And when the smoke cleared, we had a new champion - one who threw together a model without doing a single sim and flew it on a motor he hoped would work. Those of us who spent many hours with Open Rocket and building finely tuned birds of glory could only shake our heads in astonishment and wonder if we had neglected some sacrifice to the rocket gods.

Vince's improvised V-2 TARC was first to fly. I must confess I was tempted to disqualify him at the outset, for the model was literally a V-2 with a BT-70 payload section taped to the top. However, it was creative, reminding me somewhat of the old White Sands Bumper program (WAC rocket on top of V-2), so I decided to let it go. It took Vince a while to get the bird into the air, as he had 3 ignitor misfires before it left the rail on the 4th attempt. It was a fantastic flight - altitude of 829 feet and a perfect duration of just over 41 seconds. The rest of us were showing grim faces as we stared at Vince's 29 score.

"Fat Chance" and "Best Chance" - Duane's Geezer
TARC entries (Click to enlarge).
Eggsploder clears the rail under the thrust of 4 Estes
BP motors (Click to enlarge).
Duane was up next with his "Fat Chance" entry. Just shy of the weight limit at 636 grams, this thing was a pig. Nonetheless, it achieved 813 feet on an Aerotech F32, the closest of any flight to the 800 foot target. Unfortunately for Duane, Fat Chance's elastic shock cord couldn't handle the load and snapped, causing the sustainer to fall to the ground. The payload section made a gentle landing under parachute after a total flight time of 44 seconds, but that did not save Duane's flight from being disqualified. A shame - he just might have won the day.

The third TARC rocket to fly was Marc Loertscher's "Geezer Cheater." Tipping the scale at a whopping 750 grams (100 grams over the limit), it was disqualified at the outset, but Marc flew it anyway, just to see what it could do. He had developed a novel automated parachute reefing system for this model (which is why it was overweight), and you could actually see the chute being reefed and let out as the model descended from its peak altitude of 694 feet. Marc had programmed the thing to adjust the rocket descent rate so that it touched down in 42 seconds; it landed in 43, which our master engineer attributed to the programmed turn off of the chute control in the last 50 feet before ground contact. I was most impressed - and worried about facing this guy next year.

My turn had now come. It had taken me some time to prep the Eggsploder - stuffing the two eggs into the payload section and wiring up the 4 Quest ignitors in the 2 D12's and 2 C6's had taken more time than I normally spend getting TARC birds ready. But now she was set to go, and I hoped that the C6's would provide enough additional power to loft my 529 gram beauty to altitude (taken together, the 4 motors provided 63% of the impulse of a full F). I was also nervous after the cluster failure with my Deuces Wild a couple of weeks ago, so you can bet I checked those ignitors and the connections very thoroughly.

Turns out, I didn't need to worry...

Eggsploder's altitude profile showing the variable descent rate (Click to enlarge)
Eggsploder shot off the rail with all 4 motors burning bright, reaching 839 feet before popping the 18" parachute just past apogee. All my sims had indicated that this size parasheet would produce the perfect descent rate of 23 feet per second, but sims do not account of the upwelling of warm air from the ground (the launch occurred well past noon). I could tell that the rocket was catching air, and it stayed aloft a full minute - 17 seconds past the mark. A successful flight, but my 108 score looked pretty pathetic next to Vince's 29. I took a look at the altimeter profile after returning to my apartment, and found a very variable rate of descent - 14 feet per second near apogee, shallowing to 13 feet per second for a bit, then increasing to 17 feet per second and finally 20 feet per second near the ground. Weird, and none of the rates were close to the predicted 23 feet per second. Oh well, even if my time had been perfect, Vince was still 10 feet closer to the altitude mark than me.

The last Geezer TARC flight was that of Duane's "Best Chance". Flying on an Aerotech F39 reload, it achieved an altitude of 629 feet - puzzling, as Best Chance's weight of 543 grams was a good deal lighter than that of Fat Chance, which had performed very well. Unfortunately, Best Chance was under the same "Curse of Recovery" as his predecessor; the parachute sheared away, causing the entire model to plummet into a tree at the edge of the road. The model was recovered, but Duane's second flight was also a DQ. He took some solace in the fact that the eggs had survived the fall undamaged - the Mayer egg protection system is almost fool proof.

2018 Geezer TARC results (Click to enlarge).
And so, around 1 PM today, Vince Huegele was presented the 2018 Geezer TARC trophy and proclaimed this year's TARC Geezer. Duane, by virtue of being the most cursed contestant, received the 2018 Flying Pig award. I noted, with some irony, that he had been emphasizing to his teams the need for beefy shock cords and strong attach points - the very things that failed today.

Congrats Vince!

The victor, holding his rocket and trophy
(click to enlarge).
Duane with the Flying Pig award (Click to enlarge).
And wait till next year. It's gonna be my year - I can feel it in my bones...

(My apologies for the lack of pics - I was busy timing and writing notes during the Geezer TARC flights)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

My first eBay rescues...

There are a few people on the forums who delight in buying old built kits on eBay for the purpose of transforming them into flyable pieces of art. I have never done this, but found the idea intriguing - what better test of build/repair skills than attempting to resurrect decades-old dilapidated rockets? Anyway, there was a lot of rockets on eBay going for a few bucks - an original Estes Viper, a Sky Hook, a Mark II, a Streak, a Mosquito, a glider, and a Centuri Moonraker. It seemed too good to pass up, so I placed a bid; wonder of wonders, I actually won!

Lot of old rockets I purchased from eBay (Click to enlarge).
The rockets arrived in a couple of days, whereupon I immediately started an inspection. The glider and Mosquito I set aside, as I will probably not mess with them - Mosquitos are a dime a dozen, and I have yet to identify the glider with certainty, though it strongly resembles the Estes Firefly (The time period seems right). The Viper's fins are loose and misaligned, but it appears to be a straightforward repair and finish. Same for the Moonraker, but the adhesive paper is coming off the Streak, so that will require a little more work. I'm going to let it slide, as I have just rebuilt an old Streak. The Mark II is in the best shape of the lot - fins properly aligned, balsa nose cone in good condition. It will be the second rocket of this lot I finish and detail.

The Sky Hook (left) and Mark II before the start of the Sky Hook repair (Click to enlarge).
Which brings me to the Sky Hook...

I do not have one of these, and this model appears early 1970's vintage (in line with the other kits). Unfortunately, one of the fins was very badly misaligned - the one with the launch lug glued to the side, naturally. The kit's creator, Bill Simon, is going to give a lecture at the Museum of Flight in the near future, so I figured the Sky Hook would be the first to be resurrected. I cut off the misaligned fin, destroying it in the process, along with the launch lug (at least I didn't slice my fingers). I pulled a Semroc laser-cut Sky Hook fin from my stash, sanded it a bit, and glued it onto the tube. Proper alignment was ensured by using a Qualman rocketry alignment guide - even though he does not make a BT-30 guide, the Quest T-20 guide was a good fit to the old Estes BT-30 tube.

Have I mentioned that I love the Qualman guides? They are fantastic, and any serious rocketeer should have them in his or her tool kit. I just wish he made a set for for Centuri tubes.

Anyway, that's where things stand now - the fin is drying, and soon I will glue on a new launch lug and apply fillets. Life is slowly being breathed back into this old bird...

Friday, September 15, 2017

A tubular build...

Quest Totally Tubular (Click to enlarge).Tube fin scratch build - the Algol
(Click to enlarge).
I must confess to not being a big fan of rockets with tube fins - they violate my 1950's conception of what a rocket should look like. However, I do have 2 in my existing fleet - the Quest Totally Tubular and a scratch built tubular payloader, which I christened the Algol. The Totally Tubular is one of those pre-colored quick build kits with "peel n cuss" stickers, which means it spends a lot of time on the shelf; it's hard to be fond of something that takes no work to assemble. The Algol involved more labor, but it exhibits a bit of shimmy when it leaves the rod, which also results in it getting a huge amount of shelf time. Given this, it is hard to imagine that I would construct another tube fin rocket, but that it is exactly what I am doing.

1972 Centuri catalog pages showing the Groove Tube (Click to enlarge).
Back in 1972, Centuri released what I believe to be the first commercial tube fin rocket kit, the groovy "Groove Tube." In my opinion, it is the best looking of the lot, with a nice red, white, blue, and black paint scheme, silver trim, and a hippie-looking name decal. I had one in my teenage years - the lack of balsa needing sanding appealed to me - but soon lost it via my standard "C6-7 in very small field" practice of those days. Several days ago, I ran across a Groove Tube thread on Ye Olde Rocket Forum, and the pictures of the model sparked a new interest. The instructions and parts list were easily obtained; I had them all in my stash.

  • 1  PNC-89 Nose cone    (Semroc/eRockets BC-846)
  • 1  Shock Cord  
  • 1  Body Tube                 ST-813
  • 6  Stabilizing Tubes       ST-83
  • 1  Thrust Ring               TR-7
  • 1  Centering Ring          HTC-8
  • 1  Motor Tube                ST-73
  • 1  Motor Hook      

This build is not as simple as it appears, at least in terms of finishing and painting the model. Should I build it, then apply primer and paint? It might be difficult covering all of the rocket, especially in the gaps where the tube fins join the main body tube. And how to deal with the black interiors of the tube fins? Paint the inside black (might be a little tough with spray paint), use a black marker, or cover the inside with black chalkboard paper or trim monokote? I decided to follow Chris Michielssen's approach, which is to paint the components separately and glue things together at the last. I am also leaning towards using the chalkboard paper or monokote on the tube fin insides, as that will avoid masking off their exteriors.

Groove Tube parts (Click to enlarge).
Having settled on the approach, I have started the build - the motor mount is assembled, and the first primer coat has been applied to the tubes. This weekend I will finish the balsa cone with Brodak sanding sealer and prime it. The decals have also been downloaded from JimZ's site and cleaned up - I think I am probably the 1000th person to do this, as no one bothers to post their cleaned up decals online. A shame, as the decal in the JimZ scan is pretty ratty, and it takes a bit of work to get it usable.  So, in an attempt to set things right, you can grab my decal set (300 dpi png) here - it also includes the Arrow 300 set and Centuri logos.